Preserving America’s wild horses

Elisa Wallace demonstrates how one person can have a big impact in the effort to bring awareness to the challenges facing our wild horses.

America’s wild horses and those who manage them are facing an uphill battle. In 2016, approximately 67,000 wild horses and burros were recorded to be living on public land, with 46,000 in off-range corrals and pastures. And while the Bureau of Land Management has successfully adopted out 235,000 wild horses and burros since 1971, they now find themselves dealing with a growing dilemma. As populations continue to increase, adoption rates have been falling rapidly. Last year a mere 2,600 of these animals found homes. That’s an almost 70% decrease in adoption rates over the last decade.

Managing the wild horse problem

So what do we do? The BLM is scrambling to effectively manage populations through various methods of contraception, and by promoting adoption. They have also been placing small herds in off-range pastures. Unfortunately, things seem to have reached a stage where no single method will solve the problem at hand – if people want to see these great horses continue existing, everyone will need to pull together.

You might think you are just one person, and that there isn’t much you can do. But there is! Just look at Elisa Wallace, a young international eventer from Georgia. Elisa has successfully competed at three-day events in North America and Europe, her results at events like Rolex in Kentucky landing her on the short list for the Olympics. Her talent for working with and developing off-the-track Thoroughbreds and “quirky” horses has got her noticed as a young horsewoman to watch.

Elisa is always looking for diamonds in the rough, and this led her to enter the Extreme Mustang Makeover in 2012. The EMM was created by the Mustang Heritage Foundation to showcase the American Mustang and increase adoptions. Trainers are given 100 days to successfully train an untouched Mustang and compete with them in a variety of events to show their trainability and versatility.

Meeting a Mustang

Elisa was assigned a Mustang she named Fledge, after the winged horse in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. This 13.2hh three-year-old horse from the Medicine Maverick herd in Nevada would go on to change Elisa’s life. Their partnership developed rapidly, and Elisa and Fledge were the winners of the Mustang Makeover that year. Elisa put in the highest bid at the auction after the event, and took Fledge home. She continued to compete in Mustang events in 2013 and 2014, adding Rune and Hwin to her growing herd of “wild” horses. “I’ve always been one to root for the underdog,” explains Elisa. “They are often stereotyped, discarded and discredited. I have found that I like to prove people wrong. For me, the reward is experiencing the ‘change’ in a horse, whether it’s in body condition, more of a more mental shift, or in his or her education. Being able to look back on the journey and experiencing all the failures and successes that come with training horses is what I get addicted to. That’s why it’s so rewarding working with Thoroughbreds and Mustangs.”

Mustangs – for more than just cowboys

Elisa has been using her platform as an upper level eventer to showcase her Mustangs in a variety of situations and disciplines, demonstrating that the American Mustang isn’t just meant to be a cowboy’s horse. Her herd often travels with her to big events, where she shows them off in clinics and demonstrations. Her horses can be ridden bareback and bridleless, and perform tricks, dressage maneuvers and jumping. Hwin and one of her client’s Mustangs, Arlequin, are also competing successfully in eventing. “I want to show that anything is possible with horses, and working with them should be fun. Oftentimes in my demos I just try to play with the horses. People need to see and understand that just because it’s a Mustang, that doesn’t mean he’s not a ‘sport horse’. They can do anything!”

While some purists feel that “natural horsemanship” has no place in world of competitive sport horses, Elisa bucks this trend with all her horses. “I believe firmly in developing my relationships with my horses. Thus, they give me better performances. Groundwork helps me communicate and build relationships with my horses. Each horse is different, but to me it is very important in building trust and confidence, which then carry over to when you are riding them.”

Elisa with Pledge (2012 Mustang Makeover), and Rune (2013 Mustang Million) performing at the 2014 Red Hills International Horse Trials.

Preserving wild horses

The Mustangs Elisa works with and showcases are all different sizes, shapes and colors, and have different breeding. But they all have wonderful, friendly personalities, and are clearly extremely trainable and willing. Raised on the range, these horses are typically very sturdy and hardy, with excellent feet – perfect candidates for people looking for horses they can keep in a more natural lifestyle.

Many people would argue that wild horses don’t need saving – some even say they’re a nuisance, or not useful. But Elisa begs to differ. “I don’t want to lose these horses,” she says. “It’s amazing to see a wild horse in the wild. It is my hope we can discover a solution so these horses can be managed harmoniously. I want to keep doing the work I am doing so more people can learn about how amazing these horses are, and that they are worth keeping around.”

For more information on the work Elisa does, visit